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January 23, 2018

Knives are bringing together the unlikeliest of allies in New York as the constitutionality of a nearly 70-year-old statute is being challenged in federal court. Over the past decade, "tens of thousands" of people have been arrested for possessing illegal "gravity knives" — blades that can be flicked open with the skilled snap of a wrist, In Justice Today reports. Arizona-based knife advocacy group Knife Rights, which is representing three plaintiffs in the case, claims that the law is unconstitutional because there is no firm test to define what is or is not a gravity knife.

What's more, because of how vague and arbitrary the law is, "gravity knives" are often unknowingly sold in regular city stores:

"There's literally no way to know whether you're engaged in legal conduct," Daniel Schmutter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the three-judge panel on Thursday. Someone seeking to comply with the law, he explained, might set out to perform the wrist flick test themselves, fail, and think the knife is safely "unflickable." But whether a knife's owner can "flick" his or her knife is irrelevant if a skilled police officer can do so. [In Justice Today]

Of the 928 people arrested for possessing gravity knives between July and December 2015, 84 percent were black or Latino men, Legal Aid reports. Although the fear is that the knives will be used as weapons, "in practice, the law results in New Yorkers who work in construction and other blue-collar jobs getting arrested for carrying an indispensable tool for their jobs," the New York Daily News writes.

As a result, groups as disparate as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Rifle Association are supporting changes to the law. Read more about gravity knives at In Justice Today. Jeva Lange